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  • Patricia E. Gitt - my views on writing

a character's backstory



I have always seen myself as an outsider. Someone who would meet each new person and by listening to what they had to say find an opening to begin a conversation.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have ideas to share. Or, I was insecure about those thoughts. It was simply I learned that by listening I could enjoy meeting each new person without triggering a negative reaction.

First impressions are created by the visual, and in today’s verbal world, by the choices two people make in the words and tone used… where initially, listening goes further than preaching or shouting. This talent is extremely valuable in the world of business. But socially, it also gives two people the initial opportunity to get to know one another without raising emotional barriers that would hinder their conversation.

I also learned early in life that my ideas weren’t always the accepted ones. While I could share them with my parents… my classmates, and later my professional colleagues, would often reject them because they didn’t fit a popular mode of thinking.

Some people live comfortably within prescribed boxes of thought. Some people follow others because they feel drawn to a movement or vision. And, some like me, find that since no two people are alike, group-think diminishes an individual. It is a person’s own thoughts and opinions gained through their personal experiences that make each of us unique.

When I begin to draw a fictional character in one of my novels, their life before you meet them on the page includes experiences that help to shape their character, choices, actions, and even their lifestyles.

For example, in my novel, FYI An Unintended Consequence, one woman having been ridiculed and shunned in high school, grew to live her life in hiding, even though she had achieved success as an accomplished author. In this case being ostracized by her classmates warped her perception of herself, driving her to plot revenge on the person she felt responsible for her painful childhood humiliation.

Another example can be found in my novel, TBD -to be determined – in which a woman in senior management feels threatened by a younger, more credentialed female staff member. By isolating this person to solitary activities of writing and researching, the older woman tenaciously protected her leadership position within the company.

Of course people are a mixture of traits, generous and stingy, emotionally secure and insecure, and normally good tinged with wickedness. That is what makes them interesting as characters in a novel. As the author, you can use these traits to weave a plot, misdirect the reader to think one thing and later find out those assumptions were wrong.

In real life you meet a person for the first time and they bring with them… their back story. In children, these thoughts and feelings are somewhat flexible, but in adults they often become resistant to change.

This is a long way of explaining my belief that people are fascinating. Each is an amalgam of experiences. When you start off without prejudice, you benefit from a wider view of a person’s knowledge and understanding. There is no perfect and you will not approve of, or even like everyone you meet. In the end, as my mother would always say, “You don’t have to invite them home to dinner.”

Thank you Mom.


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